Opportunities and Challenges of Mobile Technologies in Higher Education Pedagogy in Africa: A Case Study

Opportunities and Challenges of Mobile Technologies in Higher Education Pedagogy in Africa: A Case Study

Frederick Kang'ethe Iraki (United States International University, Kenya)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6284-1.ch009
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Abstract

Since the late 1990s, Kenya has undergone a real technological revolution, especially in the domain of mobile telephony and Internet connectivity. From a negligible number of handsets in the hands of the political elites, today almost every adult Kenyan has a mobile phone, or access to one. This is thanks to reduced costs following expansion and diversification of the market niche. Despite this remarkable progress, research has shown that cell phones are used mainly for financial transactions, social communication, and entertainment, but hardly for learning purposes. This means that despite the impressive number of smartphone owners in the university, for example, the devices are not used for enhancing student learning or teaching. In Kenya, more than 60% of the population employs mobile banking, thus underscoring the immense potential that the cell phones have for education. This chapter explores the benefits and challenges in employing mobile telephony to improve the quality of teaching and learning.
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Mobile phones are the future of the Internet 
–Google Vice-President (2007)

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Introduction

Cell phones have revolutionized communication and businesses in Africa in the last 15 years or so. In Kenya, for instance, mobile telephony has significantly impacted small-scale businesses whose owners could hardly afford banking fees. Indeed, about 60% of Kenyans employ mobile phones to access banking and financial services1. Among the most successful money transfer services include M-Pesa, M-Shwari and M-Banking. Further, due to the dramatic reduction of prices, mobile phones have simply become ubiquitous. On average, a basic cell phone costs USD 24 in Kenya. Cell phones are now increasingly improving rural health in some countries, notably India and Nigeria (Egbunike 2013). In Kenya, mobile applications are beginning to improve farming, especially livestock management, hence, improving incomes. In the same vein, mobile phones are used in the slums of Kibera in Nairobi to make medical prescriptions, thus enhancing health at an affordable cost to the financially challenged populations2. Nevertheless, there is hardly any evidence of using cell phones to enhance academic achievement in Kenya. In a recent survey in Kenyan public universities, it was noted that faculty and students hardly use Web 2.0 technologies for learning (Murungi & Gitonga 2013). These technologies include wikis, blogs, social networking, folksonomies, podcasting, Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr3. Researches are ongoing on the efficacy of cell phones to improve language learning (Susan 2008, Fangyi 2011). Given the ubiquity and capabilities of cell phones, it would be of interest to examine whether students can engage more with the learning materials, fellow students and their lecturers (Maria & Muyinda 2013). Cell phones, especially smart phones, provide learning opportunities such as SMS, videos and applications. In the current study, university students enrolled in a French literature course were encouraged to employ SMS messages to comment on posted thematic questions and also their reading materials, mainly French novels. The purpose was to establish whether cell phones could improve students’ performance in French literature.

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